The introduction of the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) into the UFC was met with approval across the board.
Ethical arguments aside, the introduction of a premier third-party Anti-Doping Agency was seen as largely beneficial for the sport’s image as well as for the UFC’s clean athletes. The problem with assessing USADA’s impact goes much further than the number of fighters popping for PEDs. In practice, the role of USADA can be viewed as more or less negligible. But, depending on your perspective, you could easily claim the agency is tyrannical and in breach of ethics, or a godsend.
Requiring an independent contractor to release their constant whereabouts to their employer is clearly over the line. Good for Anti-Doping measures? Yes. Ethically appropriate? Absolutely not.
Your conclusion depends on whether you think such a breach is justified. Then there is the matter of USADA agents/employees having to directly observe athletes in the act of urination, yet another blatant disregard of privacy. Add on to that the myriad of positive tests due to tainted supplements resulting in exorbitant sentences that clearly don’t fit the negligent crime. Taking these points into consideration it is no wonder many have chastised USADA for crossing a line.
Others though say these infringements are justified in the name of a cleaner sport. While that argument can certainly be argued on a moral basis, difficulty arises when considering the agency’s actual effect. Is the sport really any cleaner? Have the cheaters stopped or been caught making way for the “true” champions of the sport?
The fact is we really don’t know how to properly assess USADA’s effect. We have no idea how many athletes were using before versus how many are using now.
While anecdotally things appear to be improving, that perspective, once again, is based on perspective. If you ask the UFC’s Middleweight Champion, Michael Bisping, he will undoubtedly sing the praises of USADA. Three of his biggest losses and setbacks have come to TRT users (Chael Sonnen, Vitor Belfort, Dan Henderson). The fact that Bisping reigns over the ranks of 185 lbs. is proof, in his eyes, that Anti-Doping has done its job. The good guy has won.
But Bisping isn’t the only “good guy” affected by USADA. Lyoto Machida realized he was taking a banned supplement, (available at any local supplement store) disclosed it to USADA and was handed a lengthy two-year suspension. All for a product with minimal clinical benefits besides a slight increase in testosterone production. His case isn’t an anomaly either. Yoel Romero, Tim Means, and most recently Jon Jones have all claimed tainted supplements were the cause of their test failures. Both Romero and Means were correct in their claims yet they were still handed half-year sentences.
So while men like Tim Kennedy, Michael Bisping and Gegard Mousasi say good riddance, the matter is far from settled. Fact is, USADA is catching quite a few “innocent” users along with the clear PED enthusiasts and there remains a huge question mark as to those able to evade the system.
Barry Bonds and Lance Armstrong, two of the most notorious dopers in the world, never once failed a drug test. The Russian Olympic doping scandal and advances in doping techniques are confirmation that the very nature of agencies like USADA is to play catch-up.
There will always be those athletes looking to gain an edge over their competitors and there will always be those who chose to go the “noble” route. Whether you fundamentally agree or disagree with anti-doping is your own moral opinion.
But claiming USADA has had a categorically beneficial or deleterious effect on the UFC is altogether a different issue. Unless USADA has been freezing samples that can be comprehensively tested in several years, we may never know the rates at which fighters use PEDS. But lets be honest. Who among you wouldn’t watch TRT Vitor (TRTitor?) or Ubereem fight again? USADA or not, when a good fight is on we are all still tuning in.